Half of all British computer users fail to recycle old PCs or dispose of them responsibly. The scale of the problem has been revealed by research from Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC).
The online research was carried out by TNS of 1,050 adults over a two day period in February. It found that a staggering 12.5 million unwanted PCs or laptops have not been re-used or recycled by their owners over the past five years.
The computer maker is calling for a dedicated IT and electronic and electrical waste departments at municipal tips across the country, after discovering that one in four people dump their old computers at the local tip.
FSC says this waste is a result of only one in two unwanted computers being recycled or donated to another person over the past five years. Only one in 10 (10 percent) of the UK population claims their discarded computer was actually recycled via a manufacturer’s recycling facility, and four in 10 (41 percent) claim to have given their old computer to a friend or charity.
The new findings also indicate a worrying level of apathy among the population with many people making no attempt to recycle their unwanted IT hardware. Over 1 million people said they had dumped their computer or laptop in their household rubbish (4 percent) or fly tipped it in the countryside (1 percent).
Furthermore 6.2 million people say they have unused computers lying around their home or garden, while 5.1 million people just took their old computer to their local dump.
"We don't know where it goes," admitted Dave Scott, head of communications at FSC commenting on PCs left at local tips. "When I go to my local tip for example, there is a dedicated section for electrical goods, but we are unsure what happens to it after that."
"We think there should be dedicated sites at all tips, specifically for IT equipment. It is too easy for example to depose of old laptop in the household rubbish," he added. "Because of the sheer amount of IT equipment, we feel this would be a responsible way to approach the recycling of IT equipment."
FSC feels that unless a laptop or PC is assessed at the tip, there is no guarantee that it will be passed on for re-use or recycling. It points out that electrical and electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the UK, with around 1.8 million tonnes generated every year. It quotes figures that at present, just 26 percent of IT WEEE waste is recycled, out of 94,600 tonnes collected.
FSC says the main component of waste electronic equipment is large household appliances (i.e. white goods), which make up 43 percent of the total. The next largest component is IT equipment, which accounts for 39 percent.
In the UK, the disposal of electrical and electronic waste is now governed by rules set out in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which came into force in July last year.
"Our recycle centres are fully equipped to recycle old computers and general household good according to the WEEE objectives," said a spokesman for Bedfordshire County Council, which calls itself one of the fastest growing recycling counties in the UK. "We contract out with a credible company to make sure materials are properly recycled."
Meanwhile neighbouring Buckinghamshire County Council, like Bedfordshire, also says that it recycles computers as part of the WEEE directive at its household waste recycling centres (HWRC).
"Householders can bring their computers to our sites," said Buckinghamshire County Council. "If the computers don't work, the base unit would be disposed in a container which also holds other small items such as kettles, toasters, irons etc. These then get sent to the materials recycling facility in Gwent." Computer monitors meanwhile are disposed in a container which also holds televisions.
Since July 2007, Buckinghamshire HWRC's have apparently collected 12,557 computer monitors and televisions which have then been sent for recycling to Newbury.
"If the computers do work, they are re-used by customers and traders who can buy them through our HWRC," said the Council.